Texas Tech University

Guest Blog: Seeking External Funding in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Abigail Swingen

March 20, 2018

OR&I faculty fellow and TTU Department of History associate professor Abigail Swingen offers funding advice for arts, humanities and social science scholars.


Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to seek external funding for research, particularly in the arts, humanities, and certain social science disciplines where there seem to be few external funding options. There are clear benefits to receiving external funding for research. These include raising an individual faculty member's research profile, having the ability to complete research while limiting personal financial costs and having the time to devote to research necessary for tenure and promotion. But often faculty who are dealing with teaching, service and other professional responsibilities may not feel that it is worth their time to submit a proposal for a relatively small amount of money that in the end might not be awarded, particularly for highly competitive grants.

There are a variety of reasons why submitting grant proposals for research, even for small amounts of financial support, is a great idea for arts, humanities and social science scholars. The process of writing a grant proposal can help you explain and clarify the significance of your research as well as your overall goals in completing the research. The process of writing a convincing and persuasive proposal can be helpful in planning not only the research itself, but what you hope to do with the research, such as turning it into an article, presentation, book chapter or monograph. Since most proposal review committees consist of scholars from outside your specific sub-field or sub-discipline of research, writing a convincing proposal that speaks to a broader scholarly audience can be extremely beneficial as you proceed with your larger project. For example, having a clear research plan written for a wider academic audience can help you write a book proposal for a publisher or other plans for research and writing. Forcing yourself to think about how and why your research matters and articulating it to others is always a good exercise.

In addition, submitting proposals for external funding, even if they are unsuccessful, can help faculty raise their profile among a wider community of scholars. The selection committees reviewing proposals read them very carefully and will become acquainted with you and your research agenda, getting your name and ideas out in the world. Sometimes funding agencies will be willing to send along a selection committee's comments or suggestions, which can be helpful as you work to improve your proposal. In addition, funding agencies in the arts and humanities often ask for similar types of elements in their proposal applications. Therefore it is often well worth your while to submit your proposal to a number of different funding agencies and institutions in the same funding cycle, tweaking and changing as appropriate.

Do your best to become acquainted with the various funding agencies and institutions in your discipline and area of research. Make sure you are aware of your department's expectations for seeking external funding. If possible, seek assistance from mentors and others in your field who have been successful in receiving external funding. Before submitting a proposal, ask a colleague or two to look it over for persuasiveness and clarity.

One great resource here at Texas Tech for faculty applying for external research support is the Research Development Team (RDT). The staff there can help editing and reviewing proposals. They offer training specifically designed for new faculty members to assist them in finding research, and they also offer SCAN Sessions (Swift Critique Appraisal & Notation Sessions) to get feedback on a draft of a proposal relatively quickly. The RDT also offers a series of informative videos and workshops designed for faculty looking for external research funding, including information on how to sign up to receive emails from Pivot COS, a comprehensive subscription database of funding sources that you can cater to your research interests with specific search terms. The Pivot COS database contains information from a wide variety of agencies and institutions globally, in all areas and disciplines.

Other good resources include:

Barbara L. E. Walker and Holly E. Unruh, Funding Your Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Routledge, 2018)

Adam Pzreworski and Frank Salomon, On the Art of Writing Proposals (SSRC, 1995, available online: https://www.ssrc.org/publications/view/7A9CB4F4-815F-DE11-BD80-001CC477EC70/)

Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox, The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need (Basic Books, 2014)